Fan Photos of Istanbul in Huge Week for Turkey

This is a fateful week for the beleaguered Turks. Next weekend Turkey will vote in a referendum on whether to extend significant new powers to President Erdogan. With war on its borders, terror in its biggest cities, a tourism industry in collapse, a tenuous agreement with the rest of Europe over refugees, spats with individual EU governments ginned up for electoral advantage, an astounding 40,000 jailed after the attempted coup last year, well, Turkey has no shortage of challenges.

In spite of it all, Istanbul remains one of the world’s five greatest cities (In no particular order, mine are Istanbul, Hong Kong, Paris, Sydney, San Fransisco. Yours?) So I’d like to reprise a few fan photos of Istanbul in the good old days. Click them to make them bigger. And there are hundreds more photos from Turkey here, in the Turkey Gallery at


Outside the Grand Bazaar. Through that gate and down in the bazaar, march in and get yourself thoroughly lost. Wander for half a day. I once asked around for the Afghan section and came away with three fine pakols, tailored to my head size, from a milliner from Kandahar.



Again, the Galata Tower in the center back. Ferries like these ply the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus over to Asia, carrying commuters to work at dawn.



The fabled Haydarpasha Train Station in Kadaköy, on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. On arrival from London via the Orient Express, from here well heeled tourists could travel on to Ankara, then Kars, then Baghdad and Teheran.



Day labor at the break of dawn. Happening every day in the Grand Bazaar.



The Blue Mosque.



This is seven photos stitched into a 180 degree panorama. Each photo consists in turn of seven exposures combined into an HDR image. We are looking west into the Golden Horn at dawn, the Bosphorus Strait at our backs. See each end of the Galata Bridge on the far left and right.



Here is the Ortakoy Mosque in a trendy part of town some way up the Bosphorus on the European shore, the bridge behind leading to Asia, on the far side.



And Taksim Square, foreground. Gezi Park, a green space and the focus of the protests a couple of years ago, is just below and behind this vantage point. From here you can see past the Golden Horn and out into the Sea of Marmara. From this vantage point the Bosphorus, to the east, is just off to the left.



Here is the fabled Golden Horn, with the Galata Tower across the way. The Bosphorus is out of the frame on the right, the Sea of Marmara behind the photo and the Black Sea at the end of the Bosphorus at two o’clock from here.

And while we’re in the region, here’s a link to one of the chapters in my first book, Common Sense and Whiskey, about a trip through Turkey’s eastern neighbors, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

Caspian Summit Class Picture 2014

What’s with President Putin’s puffed up tough-guy pose in the Caspian Summit class picture? Pretty funny. And hey, THAT’s what President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov looks like (right).

Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. A name not made for Twitter.


Photo credit: Office of the President of Russia

Recommended Reading: Where the West Ends

WherethewestendscoverFun new book from Michael J. Totten. Fun, that is, if your idea of thrills is a drive from Turkey into Iraq for lunch.

Where the West Ends expands on Mr. Totten's Dispatches blog for World Affairs Journal. There are sections roughly grouped as the Middle East, the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Black Sea.

Many authors seem to believe they won't be taken seriously unless their work is laden with ponderous history. When well written, like in some of my suggestions below, that's  worthwhile. When it's not, it's the reason tons of books are returned to the shelf half-finished.

In Where the West Ends, Mr. Totten mostly allows a cursory sketch of the past to suffice. I suspect that satisfies armchair travelers. Then he gets on with the travel writing I like best, what it feels like to get up from that chair and actually go to a place, and what it's like, personally, to be there.

Should Mr. Totten's book pique your interest, here are some suggestions for deeper reading:

Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War by Thomas de Waal

Azerbaijan Diary by Thomas Goltz

Georgia Diary by Thomas Goltz

Towers of Stone: The Battle of Wills in Chechnya by Wojciech Jagielski

Bread and Ashes: A Walk Through the Mountains of Georgia by Tony Anderson

Rebel Land: Unravelling the Riddle of History in a Turkish Town by Christopher de Bellaigue

In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs: A Memoir of Iran by Christopher de Bellaigue

Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Tragic Anglo-American Coup by Christopher de Bellaigue

Black Sea by Neil Ascherson

The Black Sea: A History by Charles King


Along the Georgia Military Highway, Republic of Georgia

And here, in five installments, are excerpts from Common Sense and Whiskey, the book,  about our trip through the southern Caucasus:

1: Getting to Armenia
2: Yerevan to Tbilisi
3: Tbilisi and the Georgian Military Highway
4: The High Caucasus & the Russian Border
5: Baku

Order the entire book for $9.99 at, at, or the Kindle version (just $4.99).

See many more photos of the South Caucasus in the Armenia,
and Azerbaijan
Galleries at


Common Sense and Whiskey, the Book – The Southern Caucasus, Chapter Fifteen

Here is Chapter Fifteen of Common Sense and Whiskey, the book, a very short trip through Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Track down previous chapters here. Click the photos to make them bigger. More photos and additional commentary are available at A Common Sense and Whiskey Companion. And here's the Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia Galleries at Order the entire book for $9.99 at, at, or the Kindle version (just $4.99).


The Wien Flughafen stood disturbingly deserted at night, all the shops stocked like Christmas, but you couldn’t play with the toys. They glittered and blinked coquettishly behind glass doors pulled shut.

Our old buddy Austrian Airlines left Vienna on a beeline toward Budapest, then Timisoara, Bucharest, Constanta, over the Black Sea to Trabzon and on into Yerevan, all of it in blackness below. The flight tracking screen showed our destination tucked right in between Grozny and Baghdad: “Local time in Jerewan 4:31 a.m.”

Austrian’s corporate color scheme was brilliant red, the national color, and the cabin crew was dressed red hat to sensible (but red) shoes. Fetching, I thought.

Taxiing out (“We are number one for takeoff”), a wail arose behind us. A woman screamed “Go back, go back and check!” Crimson crew rushed to her and kneeled and huddled round our distraught Armenian. One of them came back forward and PA’d their apologies, “Dis is not Azerbaijan, ve know dis.”

The safety announcements were recorded, and they were for the wrong destination. This woman wasn’t by God going to Baku. Azerbaijan’s border with Armenia had been shut tight for fifteen years.

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More Good Reads, Relevant Links

EightPiecesOfEmpireLawrence Sheets covered the demise of the former Soviet Union for NPR. He writes his memoir in a brisk, non-academic style that's just right for the interested lay person. It's a quick read; Took me only a weekend and Monday. He includes what must be all his greatest hits, his quick trip to Afghanistan, a trip to Sakhalin Island in the Russian far east, visiting the Chernobyl exclusion zone, but I'm particularly drawn to his Caucasus reporting.

He makes my modest story on the southern Caucasus, recounted in CS&W, appear callow, and I appreciate him for it. It's exciting to get background on some of the places we visited a few years after he did, in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia (even a tiny place we visited, Dzoroget in Armenia, athough he visited under entirely different circumstances). His coverage of Abkhazia's succession from Georgia is admittedly maybe not general interest, but I loved it.

He reported that little war along with his friend and fellow reporter Thomas Goltz, who has written his own books, and if you read their accounts alongside each other, you get a real, exciting sense of what went on at that fraying edge of the Soviet empire.

The books:

Eight Pieces of Empire by Lawrence Scott Sheets
Georgia Diary by Thomas Goltz

Similarly, you can read Sheets on Armenia alongside Christopher de Bellaigue's Rebel Land, (earlier post) which is set just across Armenia's western border in Turkey, for a richer understanding of the Armenian genocide question, and Sheets on Armenia alongside Thomas de Waal's richly reported Black Garden (that's what "Karabakh" means), which is set just across Armenia's eastern border in Azerbaijan for a better understanding of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Go ahead and polish off your expertise about the southern Caucasus with:

Bread and Ashes by Tony Anderson. Travels in Georgia.

Also in the region, see
Towers of Stone by Wojciech Jagielski, reporter for the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza,
The Man who Tried to Save the World by Scott Anderson, about aid worker Fred Cuny in the north Caucasus, 
Chienne de Guerre by Anna Nivat, incredibly brave war reporting from Chechnya,
Beslan: The Tragedy of School Number 1 by Timothy Phillips on the nightmare in North Ossetia,
– Thomas Goltz's other books Azerbaijan Diary and Chechnya Diary,
– Thomas de Waal's other book The Caucasus: An Introduction,
– and Christopher de Bellaigue's In the Rose Garden of  the Martyrs , a memoir of Iran. de Bellaigue writes beautifully, and after all, Iran borders Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh.

Finally, to stay up to date, there's the International Crisis Group's North and South Caucasus reporting. (Lawrence Sheets is ICG Project Director for the South Caucasus these days) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Caucasus section


New Photographer Link

I've added Justyna Mielnikiewicz to the category Photographers, with Respect in the sidebar, below right. When you have a few minutes, please go see her work. Her bio says she began her career in Poland before moving to Tbilisi. Our photos of Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan don't match the grit, the real, I-live-here feel of hers.


Where to Go, Why, and What to Read.

Travel ferociously. Get out there. Engage people. Witness events. Explore the world. Bust a move. See all you can see. But when you’re at home and calm, sanguine and reflective, back in the part of the house where people don’t come unless you invite them, in that one little spot where only you rule, that’s where you can see most clearly.

Back there in that room, I saw our trip to Sarajevo as a conceit. We decided we’d go and see the aftermath of war and then we would think about it. And we saw the burned out houses on the airport road. We saw children at play beneath a hand-painted sign warning of “snijper” fire over there, in that direction.

We stood on a hill above town with an old woman and her little granddaughter and a vast field of Muslim graves behind them. We took pictures of SFOR soldiers (NATO’s ‘Stabilization Force’) taking pictures. And in the end, we didn’t really understand it any better. Or at least, we didn’t Glean Wisdom.

I read and read, before and after Sarajevo, and we went to see it, and we had a view of the bombed out parliament building from the Holiday Inn hotel, where we paid in advance, in cash, in Deutschmarks, right up front, for our entire stay.


The parliament building from the Holiday Inn, Sarajevo.

The elevator opened to carpet ripped by gunfire.

The main reconstruction work in Sarajevo was in busting down curbs and rebuilding them with wheelchair ramps.

We walked up and down the open air Markale market where a random, direct shelling killed 68, wounded two hundred on a rainy Saturday in February, 1994 – the bloodiest attack in the then twenty-two month long conflict. We saw bricks and mortar blasted from the side of the hotel next door. People bustled about the market that day, selling flowers, buying fruit, and we took it all in, but still we didn’t Glean Wisdom.

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More from Our Correspondent: Siberia and Azerbaijan

Great fun to relay with permission the following email from author Laurence Mitchell. He's a photographer too, but since he's still out on the road, updating the Bradt Guide to Georgia, I'm augmenting his emailed remarks with photos from Here's Laurence:

I am writing this from the very splendid vaulted atrium of a converted caravanserai in Sheki, Azerbaijan. I don’t suppose the original camel merchants ever envisaged that their overnight lodgings would ever have Wi-Fi!  It’s been converted into a hotel now – majestic surroundings although the rooms are rather austere, with even a touch of Midnight Express about them. I am informed that I have to relinquish my cheap room today as there is a big tour group arriving. Hard to imagine a tour group of any complexion coming to Azerbaijan but if you are going to visit anywhere other than Baku then I suppose Sheki might just be the place.

I arrived here yesterday after yet another long and exhausting journey but let’s first go back to Tomsk, which seems an age away now. Tomsk to Irkutsk required one whole day and two nights on a train but it was comfortable enough. I arrived at Irkutsk station at 1 am Moscow time, 6am local – it was very cold and still dark. I decided to head straight out to Lake Baikal and managed to get a marshrutka straight away. But it was even colder there, and by the time I had walked to my pre-booked homestay I was visibly shivering. 300526354_2001-listvyankatown01 Listvyanka, where I stayed, is a sort of low-scale Russian tourist resort but it was the end of the season and many places were either closed or thinking about doing so. Away from the coast road the village was really nice and rustic, with a pretty Siberian church and lots of typical wooden cottages that had cosmos and cabbages growing in the yard. A shame about all the noisy barking dogs. Fortunately, weather-wise, the next day was completely different – blue skies, sun but still pretty chilly – and I did a couple of good walks in the locale. Lake Baikal is big – very big (20% of world’s fresh water!) – but it is hard to get an impression of size when you are close up to it. Frozen solid for several months of the year, it certainly didn’t beckon me in for a bathe but, there again, I am pretty squeamish when it comes to cold water – and this IS cold.

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The Southern Caucasus Part Five: Baku


Today, the final installment in our series about travel through the southern Caucasus states. Next week, a trip to Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania. Earlier in the Caucasus series: Part One:
From the Eventual Book
, Part Two:
Yerevan to Tbilisi
, Part Three: Tbilisi and the Georgia Military Highway
& Part Four:
The High Caucasus & the Russian Border


They would have you understand that Baku is crawling with western oilmen. Besides the Hyatt, where harried, unhappy or uneasy young guys in ill-fitting suits rode elevators to meeting rooms, we found neither Texans nor cowboy hats.

In fact, Baku, of the three South Caucasus capitals, easily filled the bill as the most Soviet city. With a bonus – head scarves.

Down at the waterfront, atop the Maiden’s Tower (originally dating from the 11th century, complete with an inside-the-fortress well), there’s a fine view of the old town and the harbor, and a ferris wheel enclosed in a strip of trees.

Skyline A concrete bund stretches down the Caspian waterfront, the waves in full chop, and families promenade. Beside an amusement park full of kids and moms, you could enjoy Efes beers from Turkey under shade trees in the fine sea breeze.

Maybe not explicitly, outwardly, but Baku’s still a company town. Oil wealth provides a fine mix of consumer "stuff" and ethnic restaurants. Baku has built an urbane and modern pedestrian plaza called “Traders Street,” reminiscent of its glory days. In the 1890’s, Baku pumped half the world’s supply and Europe’s finest architects clambered for commissions to build signature buildings.

Stay close to Trader’s Street and you’re in Europe. Head out of town, though, and it’s a little different.

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Fabulous Destinations When Money Doesn’t Matter #9


Proximity to Power is Pricey.

This surely wouldn't appeal to everybody, but it's right up my nerdy alley:  


Global Challenges in a Post-Perestroika World

World Leaders Symposium: Russia & the Black Sea

With Condoleezza Rice, William Perry, Mikhail
Gorbachev, and other special guests

Aboard the Silver Wind • August 30 — September 15, 2010

I'm no cruise fan, but this is no ordinary cruise. It's a symposium that begins in Moscow, travels to Istanbul, and then continues by ship and local transport to Batumi and Tbilisi, Baku, Sochi, Yalta, Sevastopol and Odessa. 

I'd say put me down for that in a flash. Just one tiny problem: The least expensive accommodation is $47,980 for a "Vista Suite," based on double occupancy.


There are photos from Moscow in the Russia Gallery, Istanbul in the Turkey Gallery, Tbilisi in the Georgia Gallery, Baku in the Azerbaijan Gallery and Odessa in the Ukraine Gallery at